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Activists Honored by Refugee Advocacy Group

  • Amra Alirejsovic

Refugee crises left unattended threaten stability around the world. And people forced from their homes by conflict are among the world's most vulnerable. But they are not forgotten. The US-based organization Refugees International is now the leading advocacy organization that lobbies for action from global leaders to resolve refugee crises. And every year, the organization honors individuals who have dedicated their efforts and time to help those in need.

There are about 44 million refugees and internally-displaced people around the world and 12 million stateless individuals living in limbo without citizenship rights.

This according to Refugees International, which, for more than 30 years, has advocated for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promoted solutions to displacement crises. It has helped people from Colombia and Kosovo, South Sudan and Libya, and Iraq and Afghanistan.

Andrea Lari, the organization's director of programs, says people today need to view refugees from a different perspective.

" ...by looking at refugees as a resource, and not a burden, and therefore develop plans, projects and assistance that include them since the beginning. So, people will not feel discriminated against and will contribute to the community that is hosting them," said Lari.

This year, the group awarded its highest honor, the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award, to model, fashion designer and activist Lauren Bush Lauren. Bush Lauren is the niece of former US president George W. Bush and the daughter-in-law of fashion designer Ralph Lauren. Five years ago, she started the FEED project, whose mission is to create products to feed the world.

"As a result, we have been able to give nearly 60 million school meals to kids around the world, along with vitamin A and micronutrient powder," said Bush Lauren. "For example, I have my FEED 1000 clutch here and for each one sold we will be able to give 1,000 school meals for kids around the world."

Congressman Chris Smith and the late Congressman Donald Payne received the group's Congressional Leadership Award for their work on human rights. Congressmen Smith said the world must do more to help refugees.

"We need to very robustly fund efforts and refugee camps, making sure that the food, cooking oil and other necessities are there. We need to be working with governments that are perpetrators of crimes to hold them to account, to mitigate the numbers of refugees," said Smith. "Countries like the United Stated need to do their fair share, which I think we do, but there is always room for improvement."

Some of Refugees International's board members are also well-known activists, like Queen Noor of Jordan and the event's master of ceremonies, actor Matt Dillon.

Dillon has produced a documentary called "Enduring Struggle" to shed light on the struggles of people in South Sudan. He has also been involved in helping refugees from Iraq and eastern Congo.

"What I find most moving is that the people who have the least are the most generous. And that always touches me," said Dillon.

Refugees International says the biggest refugees crisis areas in the world today, are Somalia - which impacts Kenya - Colombia - where one out of 10 Colombians is internally displaced - followed by Congo, Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
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